WOMEN@WORK

Take a break: It’s Vacationland

Posted Sept. 06, 2012, at 7:45 p.m.

Welcome to Vacationland. Last year, 38 million visitors came to Maine for the day or to spend one or more nights at a B&B, inn or favorite seaside or lakeside camp. The Maine Office of Tourism puts the economic impact of the tourism industry at $7.7 billion.

Though some may breathe a sigh of relief as the last summer visitor leaves, there is no doubt that Maine’s economy benefits greatly from these visitors.

People come to enjoy our natural landscape, attend one of our many cultural events, partake of our iconic foods, to relax and just get away from the hubbub of everyday life.

But what about the many small business owners who host our visitors, who provide them with memorable experiences and the memorabilia that will remind them of their time in Maine? Do they find the time to take a vacation?

First, it helps if you already are in Vacationland.

“For me, being in Maine is like being on vacation,” says Lisa Giulianelli, owner of Executive Cottages in Newport. “I try to take mini-vacations every day for an hour; I go kayaking or hiking in the summer, and cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in winter. Sitting on my deck and appreciating the beauty at the end of a long day is usually enough to clear my mind.”

With more than 30 years as a corporate event planner before moving to Maine, Lisa and her partner provide business travelers and others a “home away from home” in the same relaxing environment they enjoy. Her small, houselike cottages are available year round for extended stays of a week or more.

Lisa actually runs three businesses out of her home. In addition to cottage rentals, she maintains a consulting practice as an event planner, and last February started baking a line of gluten-free tarts that she sells online and through several local shops.

“I haven’t had a personal, extended vacation in 10 years,” the busy entrepreneur notes, but by taking day trips around her adopted state, she claims to know more about Maine’s treasures then her friend who grew up here.

Most businesses, and especially those in tourism-related enterprises, have periods of intense and less intense activity. It helps to understand the rhythm of your business and take advantage of down times.

Rock Gardens Inn, on a spit of land in the coastal town of Phippsburg, offers guests homey cottages in a quiet setting and the chance to experience being away from “everyday distractions.” Proprietor Ona Barnet has run the more-than-100-year-old resort since 1984, and while it is open for the four-month summer season, it is a year-round undertaking.

“We start preparations six weeks before the first guest arrives and keep the crew on at least a week after the season closes. Then there’s all the marketing through the winter. December is a perfect time to go away, but never for two weeks,” according to Ona.

Once they have closed the last cottage for the season, she and her partner do take off for a few days, someplace close by in Maine or a neighboring state. And, Friday nights, when dinner is not prepared for guests, they take a “date night” to themselves.

Ona describes her ideal vacation as a comfortable cabin, in a beautiful, warm spot, where meals are prepared, housekeeping is provided and the surrounding area provides a variety of interesting activities. In other words, she looks forward to exactly the kind of vacation opportunity she provides her guests.

Finally, vacations take planning, preparation and commitment. Closing your doors, or even not answering the phone or email, for an extended period without explanation, is not likely to please customers — or employees.

It took Wendy and Jack Newmeyer, owners of Maine Balsam Fir Products 10 years to take their first real vacation after starting up their Oxford Hills-area company.

Maine Balsam crafts pillows, door stops and other products from hand-cut balsam fir branches, which are distributed wholesale throughout the country and from their new “factory outlet” in West Paris. Their first vacation was timed for late December, after the busy holiday gift season.

She and her husband have managed most years to take time off, closing the business between Christmas and New Year’s. This summer for the first time they added a week over the Fourth of July.

With proper planning and notification, to her customers and her employees, Wendy is now confident her business can survive a week’s vacation. “I send out a postcard to all my customers letting them know we’ll be on vacation.”

In doing so, she has let others know by her example that it is OK to take time away from work. “I have always done some really good free thinking while resting on a beach or a mountain somewhere and have designed new catalogs, or come up with new marketing plans,” she says. “It is always valuable time for so many reasons.”

Bottom line: relax, enjoy, whether for an hour, a day or a week or more. After all, we live in Vacationland!

Eloise Vitelli is the program director for Women, Work, and Community, a statewide organization that has provided training and assistance to startup entrepreneurs since 1984.

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